To celebrate Conservation week we are doing a short series of blog posts about conservation in New Zealand, celebrating how lucky we are. We will cover some the current conservation issues and, since this is a political blog, highlight some of our solutions.
What does conservation mean? Like sustainability the meaning often changes with context, and with who is speaking. Early (pre 1960s) use of the word conservation usually revolved around preservation of resources to enable their future use. Through the later half of the 20th century the meaning shifted more towards describing saving something because it was special. This is perhaps a reflection of a gradual shift away from the survival mode of early Pakeha settlers towards a more comfortable existence. There is a tradition of preservation within Maori Culture aptly summed up by the Whakataukī: Toitū he whenua, whatungarongaro he tangata (which can be translated roughly as ‘people disappear but the land remains’). Amongst the early European settlers there were strong advocates for conservation like Thomas Potts MP who is credited with making the first conservation related speech to the House of Representatives in October of 1868. His speech asked of the government “to take steps to ascertain the present condition of the forests of the Colony with view to their better conservation”.
Reflection on the relationship between the economy and conservation is especially relevant today. The current National Government’s policy has seen a move towards more commercialisation of the conservation estate. While their direct attempt to capitalise upon mineral wealth failed they have been implementing a series of decisions which has led to DoC coming under more pressure to gather revenue. The unfortunate incident of the ice cream vendor at cathedral cove is one of the more high profile incidents.
Do we seek to recover money from tourists by commercialising our natural environment? In some respects this is already the case: guided tours are considered acceptable by many,but ice cream concessions on remote beaches are not. This issue is more an argument of what is acceptable. I would argue that our unique and wild image needs to be preserved and we are better funding conservation solely through the tax take which will draw indirectly upon tourists through their spending on services outside of our National Parks and wild places. Facilitating access through tours is a good idea, provided it doesn’t compromise the ability of the average Kiwi (both the human and avian) to enjoy our beautiful back yard. Allowing DoC to generate revenue from commercial activity upon our conservation estate can lead to a conflict of interest. Should we allow the commercialisation of this part of the National Park so we can fund more pest control in that part? I hope to explore this issue more over the rest of the week.
So what does conservation mean to me? Conservation means many things from our National Parks our great walks/tramps, to a morning spent on a community restoration project or doing a bird count. It is about protecting our natural heritage both for its own sake but so that future generations can also enjoy it. Above all it is about fun; the pure joy of spotting the ungraceful kereru (native Wood Pigeon) somehow maintain its perch upon a heavily bent branch; the silence and serenity to be found atop the walk up to the Sealy Tarns surveying the valley the Tasman Glacier has carved from the Alps.
Check out www.conservationweek.org.nz to find out about events happening at your place, and perhaps share your favourite wild place or what conservation means to you below.